Connecting the Dots Between Language and Literacy Learning: Part Two

by Juliann Woods, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Image from, CC0
Image from, CC0

As promised in yesterday’s blog, today we will share a few strategies to help support language and literacy development simultaneously within family activities with family members who are home and who may be deployed or stationed elsewhere.

But first, we left you with one word of caution related to early literacy intervention – Try to control the summer camp persona.  It is important for home visitors to remember that not everyone has or loves glue sticks, paints, and safety scissors.  You can substitute sidewalk chalk for paint, use water or soap bubbles to draw pictures outside, draw or write letters on tablets or smart phones and screen capture the image, or use fruit for edible art.  Joining in with the family and expanding on what they already have and do promotes their engagement with their child’s learning.  Talking together about how to increase vocabulary, awareness of sounds or word endings, or how to include print to an activity supports the caregiver’s learning regarding how and why these practices are important as they engage with their child.

Sharing the Everyday Stories

Cell phones and computers are important communication tools for families with members who are deployed (and for everyone).  When talk time is short or includes multiple participants, having a message prepared in advance can decrease the stress of participation or the child’s performance anxiety.  The anticipation can be overwhelming for young children and result in tears and disappointment all around.  Making a story with photos, line drawings, or any scribble is a great visual support.  If the parent adds words then the activity of preparing the story becomes even richer for the child.  The parent on either end can communicate with the child by “reading” the story if the child isn’t able to do so independently.  This does not need to be fancy to be functional.  Everyday stories about going to the babysitter, feeding the pet, getting dressed, or watching a cartoon can become a short “book” with vocabulary, sequencing, past, present and future tense, and an enthusiastic ending complete with sound effects.  If sharing the story in the moment is difficult, a video made on a phone can be shared later or saved for watching again on demand.

Emotions and Emojis

Learning about emotions is important in child development and can be supported through everyday language and literacy experiences.  Many children’s books are in print and available describing different emotions including stories to support children with parents deployed in the military.  MFLN has a list of some of these books here.  Just as vocabulary develops from the familiar words in the child’s environment, vocabulary and comprehension about emotions develop from the concrete and familiar to the more abstract. Children are able to recognize emotions earlier than they can express them with words to others. Emotion words can be hard to teach because they tend to occur in the moment and are often situational.  For example, a child becomes frightened when a dog barks at the park or angry when another child visiting takes a favorite toy and won’t return it when asked.  Reading books with children that include emotions can help support their understanding of their feelings and the meaning of those feelings when they occur.  Book reading is something that parents and caregivers can do whether home or away.  For more information about supporting reading together for military families with deployed service members see this blog post.

A more recent strategy for sharing emotions is the use of Emojis.  We see them in email, on Facebook, texts, and even in movies!  Emojis are visual representations of emotions and many other symbols that can make story writing a snap activity while waiting at the doctor’s office, in line, or simply for fun.  Children may like to create long lines of the same emoji, encourage parents to write short stories with their children using a variety of emojis.  These stories can be easily shared with others to stay in touch.

The Family Fridge! 

How can the refrigerator become a vehicle for increasing the components of early literacy development?  Easy!  The refrigerator is often a central meeting place throughout the day and therefore can also easily be used to boost the child’s language and literacy development.  Families can use the refrigerator as a focal point for photos, notes, artwork, magnetic letters, and more for your conversations and storytelling.  Talking about the objects posted on the fridge or telling a story about a recent field trip that resulted in a lovely leaf and twig art project is a quick and effective way to review recent events, repeat new vocabulary, plan for the next adventure, and practice the names of important objects or people.  If alphabet letters or common words are included families can work on print and letter awareness, as well.

Below you can see how one mom used magnetic alphabet letters to help her son practice letter awareness.

The fridge can also be organized to make it easier to display artifacts by creating colorful frames with magnets to keep the family photos together, another frame for the latest artwork, and a section for magnetic letters, numbers or figures.

Framing a special section and including photos and notes from family members who are deployed offers an opportunity for children to say good morning, blow a kiss, and share a story to loved ones they might be missing.  It is also a great place to save messages to send in the next letter or to share in video so they aren’t lost.

In our next webinar on Sept. 27, 2018 we will discuss more strategies to support communication and how caregivers can embed these strategies into a family’s daily activities.  To learn more about this great learning opportunity, visit the webinar’s event page.

This post was edited by Robyn DiPietro-Wells of the MFLN FD Early Intervention team, which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on YouTube.

Connecting the Dots Between Language and Literacy Learning: Part One

by Juliann Woods, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Image from, CC0
Image from, CC0

Recent research has reaffirmed the importance of language and literacy for children’s future academic success and has increasingly recognized the central importance of the family in the development of each.   Interactions that occur between a parent and child such as comforting them when they cry, repeating their babbling, or pointing at and naming pictures in a book all serve to strengthen the child’s communication and social skills while building neural connections that support future development.  Children learn from observing and imitating.  When families engage in language and literacy activities, children are not only learning through their participation but they are also learning that these types of activities are preferred and reinforced by their family.

Many great resources were shared during the recent FD Early Intervention webinar on early literacy development.  Just as with communication development, literacy skills begin to develop early and include four components:

  • Phonological Awareness – the ability to recognize that sounds have meanings and make up words (e.g., ball and book are both fun but are different toys)
  • Print and Alphabet Awareness – the ability to understand that written symbols have meaning (i.e., a big M sign means McDonalds)
  • Comprehension of Written and Spoken Language –the ability to derive meaning from written, spoken and signed language (e.g., hearing the word stop, seeing Mom put up her hand to signal stop, and seeing a stop sign have the same meaning)
  • Expressive Language and Communication – the ability to use words and sentences to share thoughts and desires (e.g., learning new words and combining them into increasingly complex sentences)

By breaking down the components, one can see how interrelated literacy and language are and how they support the child’s social and academic future.  It is also wonderful that the same types of interventions can be effective for teaching them through thoughtful planning.

A primary goal is to ensure the frequency of opportunity is sufficient for child learning.  We can increase frequency by learning from families what activities they enjoy that they already do and then discuss how to increase the language and literacy opportunities available without interfering with the fun or flow of their day.  Starting with the family’s interests and talking about what is already supporting the child’s learning promotes the family’s sense of competence and feelings of accomplishment.  It says to the family, “I can do this because I already am doing a lot of it.  It isn’t brand new and more than I can manage.”

A quick word of caution, early literacy intervention can bring out the summer camp persona in all of us.  Just writing this, is making me itch for my craft box.  I am not suggesting that projects are a bad thing for quick and fun activities that engage a child.  However, if they do not match the priorities and interests of the family, then they will not provide continuous learning opportunities that are led by the caregiver when you are not there.  Tomorrow, we will share a few basic but rich examples of how to support language and literacy development simultaneously within family activities that can be done with family members both near and afar.

This post was edited by Robyn DiPietro-Wells of the MFLN FD Early Intervention team, which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on YouTube.